Press Releases

2000 Releases

HSPH Receives $25 Million From Gates Foundation to Prevent Spread of AIDS in Nigeria

For immediate release: November 13, 2000

Boston, MA--As part of ongoing efforts to affect the course of the AIDS epidemic in Africa, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has granted $25 million to the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) in collaboration with the Harvard Center for International Development for a prevention program in Nigeria, the most populous nation on the continent. The commitment represents the largest single private grant in the school's history.

The Nigerian AIDS Prevention Initiative will begin by profiling the nature of HIV infection in Nigeria. Researchers will then target prevention programs as HSPH has done successfully for many years in Senegal where infection rates have remained stable at two percent.

"One out of six Africans is Nigerian; the country has 113 million people; HIV/AIDS prevalence is still very low. This is our opportunity to help a great many people stay healthy," said HSPH Dean Barry R. Bloom. "The object, based on our experience in Senegal, is to prevent infection from getting to the level of 25 to 30 percent as in other African nations. Major questions exist in Nigeria on sources of infection, routes of transmission, high-risk populations and the best strategies to contain the epidemic. Our proposal is to work with our colleagues in government and NGOs in two Nigerian states to set up a model project for learning how to control the epidemic."

Training for Nigerian scientists and policy makers to devise AIDS prevention strategies and to build the country’s epidemiological and laboratory capacities will be performed jointly by HSPH and colleagues at the Center for International Development at the Kennedy School of Government.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and his government’s Ministry of Health have officially sanctioned the project. In a letter to Dean Bloom, President Obasanjo wrote: "I share your concern about preventing spread of HIV/AIDS in this country; indeed, I believe that it is one of the greatest challenges facing Nigeria in the coming decade."

"We believe that with the strong support of President Obasanjo and his health ministry and through information gathering and treatment interventions, we will make real and important progress in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria," said Dean Bloom. "We are enormously grateful to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for its pledge of support in these efforts."

Initial work will begin in two Nigerian states to be selected with input from a Nigerian advisory council. Identification of high-risk groups is the critically important first step for the initiative. Nigerian health researchers and physicians believe high-risk groups may vary regionally within Nigeria and that they may differ markedly from such groups in other countries in Africa.

"This initiative is a strong example of the comprehensive approach we feel is necessary to stem the spread of AIDS in a developing country context," said Dr. Bill Foege, Health Advisor to the Global Health Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "We will be very interested in the initial results in these two states and the possibility of scaling the approach across Nigeria."

HSPH researchers will also work with Nigerian colleagues to standardize screening and data collection, so that the information gathered about seroprevalence is accurate. They will also help upgrade laboratory facilities for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the two states chosen and will provide STD treatment, particularly among commercial sex workers, and determine the impact of prevention on HIV spread. The initiative will also provide screening for pregnant women and antiretroviral treatment for those who test positive. Findings on levels of infection among these women and on the strains of HIV identified will be shared with Nigerian colleagues and will inform public education efforts.

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman
Office of Communications
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752

Annemarie Hou
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Tel: 206-709-3265